Friday, March 14, 2014

US complaints of Chinese students: Discrimination? Legitimate? Both?

This will be my last entry on research by Mollie Dollinger summarized in an article entitled "Survey of Chinese Students at Indiana University Reveals Challenges of Integration" on TeaLeafNation.

I continue to think through two questions I first posed last week: How well do Chinese students adjust to university life in the US? What do they feel about their experiences?
Students also cited barriers between themselves and American students when they were asked to work in groups for class. They frequently reported that the first few times participating in the group was a stressful experience for them, as their American classmates often criticized their English, so some students thought that American classmates did not believe they added value to group projects, which ultimately made it difficult for them to participate actively. One student explained that it wasn’t only his classmates who treated him differently but also his professors. He said, “I see the professors joking with the American students all the time. But they never joke with me before or after class. They ask me where I am from, and when I say China they say okay, and that’s the end of the conversation.”

There are some disappointing aspects going on here.

Observation: If true...

If it is true that Chinese are being selectively ignored or marginalized by professors, that's a fairly damning critique.

If American students are unfairly criticizing Chinese students' English and are simply unwilling to work with them, that too is a sad state of affairs.

Questions: What else could be going on here?

Could there be other ways to look at this?

Though I have known many Chinese with excellent English, I have also know many Chinese who just want to "go abroad" and don't want to "waste time" improving their English, so long as they can pass the IELTS or TOEFL and be accepted by a university. Could some students' (and perhaps their families') impatience result in having English abilities that contribute to these criticisms?

Did the American students really think the Chinese students didn't add value or was is merely the Chinese students' perception?

Given the nature of collectivist society, and the fact that it's more important to look after each member of the group than it is to make sure each person contributes well or equally, could the Chinese students have been ill-prepared for the demands of individualist society group work?

 “I see the professors joking with the American students all the time." Really? All the time? I also wonder who initiates these joking conversations? Do the American students initiate or do the professors? Also, given that humor often doesn't translate well across languages and cultures, is it possible that neither the professors nor the students know how to joke with each other? Rather than disliking the Chinese students, could professors be avoiding such interaction out of the embarrassment or the discomfort of not knowing how to interact with them?

Final Comments

Some of the aspects noted here remind me of why I advise most Chinese students to enroll on preparatory programs before studying in the US or UK. I don't mean language preparation only, but rather programs than include courses in mathematics, economics, sciences, etc. I believe that except for a few students who have excellent English and fairly advanced social skills, the benefits of such programs far outweigh the benefits of getting abroad quickly.

Programs such as USPP and IFY (both Kaplan China programs for which I've worked) and others engage students in fairly rigorous academic work while also helping students learn the study habits and interactional requirements of US and/or UK educational culture. And it's all done in English. I'm a strong advocate of such programs. It's also why I suggest that US universities foster more relationships with these types of programs, rather than focusing on agents alone.

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